Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Department of Biostatistics accept applications for all semesters?

Biostatistics accepts MS and PhD applications for the fall semester. PhD applications are accepted for Spring admission, limited to those who have an MS degree in biostatistics or statistics (application deadline is October 15).

What is the deadline for applications?

The PhD application deadline is December 1 the year prior to the entry fall semester; the MS application final deadline is January 15.  MS applicants requesting consideration for financial aid must submit their application by December 1. MPH applicants should refer to the MPH web page for information about deadlines.

Do I need to investigate potential funding from faculty in advance of application to the PhD program? You do not need to seek out your own funding from a research supervisor. All applicants are evaluated for both admission and funding by our Admissions Committee and not by individual faculty members. After you accept an offer that includes financial support, all Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant position assignments will be made separately by the Director of Graduate Studies.

How are Teaching Assistants (TA’s) and Research Assistants (RA’s) chosen?

Most of the Biostatistics students are appointed as a TA and/or RA as a mechanism for financial support. For the Fall semester, we usually must wait until we get a preliminary look at course enrollment numbers in early August before we decide how many TA’s to appoint and for which courses. We also need to know which of our accepted applicants are coming before we can match the students to the assignments. Many of the first-year students who begin as an RA are funded through our Biostatistical Consulting Center (BCC), which has new projects beginning at all times. These projects usually involve collaboration with the medical departments in the hospital, and require a combination of database design, data entry, database management, descriptive analyses, formal hypothesis testing, and preparing reports. By the end of the first year, many of the MS students transition from their initial TA or RA/BCC assignment into an assignment connected with a large NIH-funded grant at the hospital. A student can let us know his/her preferences in terms of RA or TA assignments, and we do try to accommodate. However, since we must balance the needs and preferences of all of our students, not all requests can be granted. Also, our MS program provides a good education regardless of what type of assistantship a student receives. Most of our courses involve small assignments and larger projects which give our students very good “hands-on” experience working with real data, as well as a perspective of how statisticians do much more than number-crunching. Also, we have a “Preceptorship” course (BIOS:7500), required of all MS students, which is a supervised consulting project that ensures that our students are ready to work in real-world settings.

What is the salary for TAs and RAs?

Current graduate assistantship stipends and associated tuition scholarship amounts are published here.

If I am a TA or an RA and receive financial support, do I pay tax on the income? The issue of taxes depends on a number of factors. The Payroll Department at the University will be able to advise you for your specific situation. Their phone number is 319-335-2381.

What is the typical timeline for course work and research experience in the MS and PhD programs?

A student will be assigned an academic advisor to help choose the appropriate courses to take. The first year contains all of the “core” elements of the MS program. At the beginning of the second year in July a comprehensive exam will be taken over those core areas of the MS program. During the remainder of the second academic year, students will continue to take required and elective courses covering topics not on that core exam, and then they should be ready to graduate in May of that second year. During the summer between the first and second year of the MS program, students usually perform the research for their “Preceptorship” course, which is a supervised consulting experience. This is basically an applied MS project where the student works with a Biostatistics faculty member (who may or may not be the student’s academic advisor) and one or more collaborators in the hospital. In addition to the preceptorship experience, most of students will work as an RA on various research projects while they are an MS student. The student may also be a TA as well.If an MS student is accepted into the PhD program, he/she continues to take courses fulltime for an additional year, after which time the PhD comprehensive exam should be taken. It is usually at that point that a student finds an advisor and a research topic for his/her dissertation. Then in the fourth (and often the fifth year, depending on the rate of progress), the student works on his/her dissertation and takes a few elective courses. Then the student will have the final thesis defense. Also, PhD students continue to work as RA’s and/or TA’s, although some are able to obtain a fellowship that has reduced responsibilities. If they work as RA’s, it is sometimes possible that their RA work will overlap with their work on their dissertations.

I have been accepted in the MS program in Biostatistics. If I want to continue in the PhD program, do I need to apply again? What is the process involved?

You will need to apply for admission to the PhD program; we cannot guarantee admission. There is an early mechanism to apply after the “MS Core Examination” in the third semester of the program (see Policy for “Internal” Application to the PhD Program) outlined in the “Student Handbook”. Decisions for early applications are made by early November.  After a student is in our program for two semesters, we have a pretty good idea whether he/she would be accepted into the PhD program. As we look at the formal parts of a PhD application (grades, letters of recommendation, resume, and personal statement), we are trying to make judgments on a number of things including communication skills, technical skills, ability to perform as a Research Assistant and a Teaching Assistant, ability to take initiative, leadership skills, and the willingness and availability of faculty members to be the dissertation advisor.

How many students apply to the Biostatistics programs at the University of Iowa, and how many are accepted each year?

Out of a pool of around 100 applicants, we usually accept 8-10 students into our MS program and 3-5 students into our PhD program. Since 2010, 34% of our masters students have continued in the PhD program.

When are decisions made concerning admissions and financial aid?

The first offers for admission and financial aid are usually made by mid-January for the coming fall semester. Students who receive those offers are given until April 15th to decide whether to accept the offers (Council of Graduate Schools Policy). We make additional offers for admission and financial aid between mid-January and early April, depending on if and when any of the first offers are declined. We generally notify students who are high on our waiting list.

How does the MPH in Biostatistics compare to the MS degree in Biostatistics?

The MPH is a professional degree.  The MS is an academic degree.

MPH in BiostatisticsMS in Biostatistics
Prerequisite: 1 semester calculusPrerequisite: 3 semesters calculus
Prerequisite: Matrix algebra (high school Algebra 2 or pre-calculus)Prerequisite College level linear algebra involving vector spaces
Prerequisite: Quantitative ability, but without advanced mathematics trainingIncludes required coursework in mathematical statistics
Practicum (Applied Practice Experience) is the capstone projectMS Core Examination after 2nd semester
No core or final examinationProgram total 38 s.h.
Degree focus is on applications 
Program total 42 s.h. 

Regarding housing, do I need to rent an apartment on my own or will the University arrange it for me?

It is up to the individual student to find housing. Some facilities are owned by the University.  See here for off campus housing options.  

If additional questions, email